- Constipation is the decreased frequency of bowel movements and is defined as passing fewer than three stools per week.
- A registered dietitian nutritionist can help with constipation if the root cause is related to diet and lifestyle.
- Prioritizing the increase of fiber, fluid, and physical activity are all essential for healthy bowel movements.
There may have been times when you felt backed up or constipated for a few days. It can occur when your diet changes, if you are traveling, or if you have started a new medication. However, if you can’t pass a bowel movement for an extended period, there may be other contributing factors that should be addressed so you can find relief.
Working with a healthcare professional to assess your bowel health thoroughly is essential, and making dietary changes under the guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist may help with constipation. In this article, you’ll learn why adding fiber, fluid, and physical activity are essential to improving constipation.
If you want individualized nutrition advice, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian through Nourish. Insurance providers cover most appointments, and currently, 96% of patients pay zero dollars out of pocket, which makes accessing nutrition care easier than ever.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is a decrease in bowel movements, categorized as having fewer than three per week. Primary or secondary factors can cause constipation, and knowing which type you have is important for increasing bowel movement frequency.
- Primary constipation is caused by a combination of internal factors, such as slow transit time for the stool to move through the intestines and digestive tract. This can be caused by a diet that is low in fiber, inadequate fluid intake, and low levels of physical activity.
- Secondary constipation can be caused by mild dehydration, medications, chronic disease, or physical abnormalities in the digestive tract.
Primary constipation can be treated by dietary and lifestyle changes and laxatives until constipation improves. Secondary constipation treatment may start with laxatives, followed by a consultation with a gastroenterologist if the laxatives are not effective.
Ensuring you follow a diet that is rich in fiber and variety is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system. A registered dietitian can help you make dietary changes to help with constipation. You can book an online appointment with a registered dietitian through Nourish.
Understanding Constipation's Effect on the Body
Being constipated is uncomfortable and sometimes painful. You may experience tightness in your lower abdomen or cramping. These are signs that a professional should assess you because the stool may have hardened (fecal impaction), which may require additional treatment.
Straining while trying to go to the bathroom can increase your risk of hemorrhoids, which are painful swollen vessels around the anus and lower rectum. The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to avoid pushing and prolonged periods of straining while on the toilet. Your doctor may recommend taking a stool softener to help make going to the bathroom easier.
Can a Nutritionist Help With Constipation?
A dietitian nutritionist can make nutrition recommendations to relieve primary constipation. The key focus areas will be assessing your current fiber intake and likely increasing your intake to an approximate range of 25-30g daily.
Fiber is a crucial focus for digestive health because it adds bulk to your stool, which makes it easier to pass. It also helps you feel satisfied after eating, improves blood sugar control and cholesterol levels, and reduces the risk of certain cancers.
There are endless ways to include more fiber in your diet. Some examples of foods that are rich in fiber include:
- Whole grains - quinoa, whole grain bread, oats, millet, barley.
- Legumes - chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, black beans.
- Fruits - berries, pears, apples, oranges, cherries.
- Vegetables - broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, cauliflower, tomatoes, avocado, etc.
- Nuts - walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans.
- Seeds - sunflower, pumpkin, chia, flax.
While constipated, you will also need to increase your fluid intake. Ideally, you should choose water most often, but your total fluid intake can also come from teas, coffees, and wet foods such as soups and yogurt. Aiming for 6-8 cups of total fluid daily is recommended for most people.
Benefits of Working with a Nutritionist for Constipation
Working with a dietitian nutritionist can be helpful because you will receive health advice that is uniquely tailored to fit your needs.
A dietitian can take a holistic approach to your health, offer suggestions to improve your constipation and provide general nutrition education. There is also an opportunity to learn about the link between mental and gut health and why exercise and stress management are vital to improving digestive health.
Ways a Nutritionist Can Help With Constipation
It can be difficult to hit daily fiber goals without proper planning. A dietitian nutritionist can work with you to create a meal plan that helps you satisfy your nutrient requirements and tastes delicious. You can spread fiber-rich foods throughout the day to help make it easier to hit your target (fiber is very filling!)
Here is an example of a full day with 30g of fiber. Each meal offers approximately 10g of fiber:
- Breakfast - ¾ cup of bran flakes with milk, ¼ cup of chopped almonds, and a handful of mixed berries.
- Lunch - ½ cup of brown rice, ½ diced avocado, one diced tomato, ¼ cup of diced red onion, fresh cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, a sprinkling of feta cheese, and sliced chicken breast.
- Dinner - Baked salmon filet with ½ cup seasoned roasted sweet potato (skin on), large salad with kale, shredded Brussels sprouts, freshly grated parmesan, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and an olive oil balsamic dressing.
You can also add snacks throughout the day if you feel hungry. This list is one example of meals to inspire you to eat more fiber.
Other Strategies for Treating and Preventing Constipation
You can take different lifestyle approaches to help prevent constipation.
- Engaging in regular physical activity. Movement helps to keep food passing through the bowels naturally and can stimulate regular bowel movements. Try to include a brief 10-minute walk after each meal to keep things moving.
- Consider taking probiotics. Taking the correct strain of probiotics is important to prevent constipation; a dietitian can help you identify the best option.
- Take laxatives if necessary. Your medical team can assess if laxatives are an appropriate option. A pharmacist can review the correct dosage and recommend the best time of day to take it.
- Manage stress and mental health. Your gut and brain constantly communicate, and poorly managed stress can negatively affect your bowel health. Meditation, movement, and spending time in nature are all effective methods for lowering stress.
- Review your medications for possible side effects. Changes in bowel habits are common when starting a new medication. Ask your pharmacist to review possible side effects if you take any prescriptions. Your doctor may offer alternate options.
- Review supplements. Some supplements, such as iron, can cause constipation. Your dietitian can offer suggestions on how to manage these side effects.
- Go to the bathroom when the urge strikes. Do not ignore your body’s signals when you need to use the toilet.
Being constipated is uncomfortable, and finding ways to find relief is possible. To decrease the chances of a recurrence, ensure you are eating enough fiber in your diet to stay regular. Most adults should consume approximately 25-30g daily. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes.
Whenever you add more fiber to your diet, you should also increase your fluid intake to help the fiber pass easily through your intestinal tract. This additional fluid will keep the stools soft, making going to the bathroom easier.
How a Dietitian Can Help
A gut health dietitian can help you make nutrition changes to help with constipation. Together you can create a robust approach to eating that will support regular bowel movements and help you feel more comfortable.
You can book a virtual nutrition appointment with a registered dietitian through Nourish. Currently, 94% of patients are covered by insurance and pay no money out of pocket. The visits are helpful and compassionate and will help you move closer to achieving your health goals.
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